Wardair was wonderful but it’s 2018 Mr. Olive

This article is our rebuttal to The (Toronto) Star columnist David Olive’s opinion piece published in The Star on September 1, 2018. We asked The Star to run our rebuttal to provide balance to Mr. Olive’s article, but they declined. So, we’re publishing it on our blog.

While an interesting use of click bait in the headline (As Air Canada soars, WestJet takes a predictable nosedive, Sept. 1), Mr. Olive’s analysis of the airline situation in Canada contains significant inaccuracies as the author often uses apples-and-oranges comparisons that are misleading.

Mr. Olive yearns for the day when Wardair was offering services and amenities that were second-to-none. Wardair was a wonderful airline, but its demise only serves to underscore that long-term sustainability in the volatile airline industry is a challenge.

Times have changed and for the better. In the 1950s a traveller could expect to pay about 40 per cent more for the same ticket bought today. Air travel was a luxury few could afford.

When WestJet launched in 1996, it was purpose-built to introduce more competition and lower airfares for Canadians. WestJet changed air travel forever by stripping away costs that made it so expensive to fly. In fact, even today, WestJet has more than one million fares below $100 in market.

WestJet has been the low-fare leader in Canada since its inception. Case in point is WestJet Encore, which has become Canada’s most reliable regional airline since its launch five years ago. And that’s not counting Swoop’s ultra-low fares, introducing even more Canadians to travel. With our Encore service now in more than 35 cities, fares have dropped by as much as 50 per cent – particularly in those markets previously served by a single carrier – while travel has increased by as much as 90 per cent.

We are immensely proud of our role in connecting more Canadians to their country and the world. At the time of our launch, only 18 per cent of the Canadian population flew. Today, 49 per cent of adults ages 18 to 75 now do.

But we won’t stop there. The leisure market in Canada is only so big, and that’s why our new strategy of transitioning to a global airline that will serve business and premium travellers while offering an ultra-low-cost option in Swoop is a sound one. We have already seen resounding success with Swoop, flying more than 90 per cent full on its routes, and our WestJet Link provides more competition to smaller areas of B.C. and Alberta (by the way Mr. Olive, WestJet does not operate the Saab aircraft, this is done by Pacific Coastal with whom we share a Capacity Purchase Agreement, like our competitor’s agreement on Jazz).

We know such a transition will be challenging. We faced that reality this past quarter after 13 years of consecutive profitability – a regrettable loss for sure but significantly less than our competitor over the same period.

Far from being an unclear strategic direction, WestJet’s future as a low fare domestic airline with a premium international arm is a well-established global model – British Airways and Qantas being examples. WestJet will simply do it with our award-winning personal care that has seen us voted Best Airline in Canada by TripAdvisor two years running and North America’s Best Low-Cost Airline by Skytrax. We have an outstanding award-winning team and not a day goes by that I don’t receive emails and letters from guests who have had exceptional experiences with our crews. These awards could also be because WestJet proudly remains the only national carrier in Canada that does not overbook, a major source of traveller frustration.

While I could go on, I think I’ve made it clear we are anything but “pell mell” about our ambitions. Rather, we are laser-focused on taking WestJet to the next level as a high-value global network carrier, bringing more Canadians to the world with the expansion of an extensive route network through the finalization of our joint venture with Delta and the launch of our Boeing 787 Dreamliners next year. And we’ll do it while continuing to maintain our WestJet values – that include pitching in to help clean the aircraft cabin – something that yes, all WestJet executives and employees still do.